...And how would you like that? | The power of cooking to order

Anton Chernov ( Shutterstock )

Anton Chernov (Shutterstock)

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Cooking to order is big business. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware, not just of where their food comes from, but also of how it’s prepared. If given the option, people relish in the freedom of able to pick and choose how their food is cooked. Throughout my career, I have seen this trend explode. It’s not uncommon to overhear diners requesting their aubergine to be cooked or prepared in a specific way, much like a steak. Me? I prefer mine chargrilled, but that’s just preference.

The cook-to-order trend has rolled customisation and the clean-eating movement into one, giving health-conscious consumers a more personalised dining experience. Paul Backman, director of services at foodservice market trends and data organisation, Horizons, said: “Increased customisation of dishes is something we are starting to see more of. It’s a simple concept, and certainly not new, but it’s a move away from prescribed dishes to offering consumers exactly what they want.”

People want to know that restaurants can keep up with their ever-changing needs, which puts cooking-to-order at the top of the list for the savvy consumer. With the new wave of clean eaters and clued-up consumers comes higher expectations for quality in production. Steve Starr, a nationally-recognised leader in restaurant and retail design, said: “People are interested in viewing the food being cooked in the restaurant. They want to see what’s taking place on site and have the opportunity to watch their personal meal take form. If you’re currently using cook-to-order processes in your restaurant, it’s important to celebrate it. Featuring an expo kitchen allows diners to see your operation clearly.”

According to Steve, restaurants have a decision to make. He said: “Preparing cooked-to-order meals will limit the number of menu choices you can offer and can cost more. So it’s important to decide if you would rather have quality food at a lower cost, or quality cooked-to-order food that resonates with your customers.”

There’s nothing more disappointing than ordering a succulent, medium-rare steak and receiving a dry, overcooked chunk of meat. While this is rare (pardon the pun), with the option of cook-to-order, restaurants must be prepared to get it right every time. They also need to be ready to serve the ever-increasing population of vegetarians and vegans.

According to research commissioned by The Vegan Society last year, at least 542,000 people in Britain are now vegan. The report suggested the vegan movement is being driven by young people making “more ethical and compassionate choices”. Data from the NHS suggests around 2% of the UK population is vegetarian – roughly 1.2 million people. To support a growing nation of health-conscious eaters, cooking-to-order is a great place to start. Offering dishes with specially-cooked vegetables as the main event allows vegetarians and vegans to feel as though they are being attentively catered to, just as meat-eaters are. This goes beyond soft-cooked or al dente sides, any halloumi burger or stuffed mushroom must be available in multiple styles in order to satisfy the desire for customisation from every consumer.